Looking at the “Capoeira” in “Capoeira Regional”

5 08 2008

Capoeira regional

Something very interesting occurred to me as I was typing up my responses to the “Feminism, Capoeira, Cultural Appropriation, & Black Self-Determinationdiscussion. The funny thing is that after I published and reread what I’d written, I realized that my “epiphany” was actually a really common and oft-argued viewpoint. So common and oft-argued, in fact, that I’d never felt terribly interested in discussing it on here before. But thanks to that conversation, I ended up arriving at this one point from the complete opposite side. It felt exactly like the difference between arriving in China by plane, and arriving in China through a tunnel you started digging in your own backyard.

(*For context and background information, before continuing, I strongly recommend you first click here and read the original discussion):

In the very wide-ranging, thought-provoking, and possibly inflammatory conversation we’ve all been sharing in, several points have been brought up in direct reference to capoeira, such as cultural appropriation, changing or ditching tradition and bringing in your own values, and focusing on what you like and distilling out the rest.

Now, what I realized—is it just me, or does that describe exactly what happened in the development of capoeira regional?

If Greg Downey’s Learning Capoeira is correct, and if I recall it correctly, he wrote that regional is faster, flashier, and more focused on kicks and acrobatics because that’s what the majority demographic of its practitioners were interested in. This demographic consisted of middle-to-upper-class, white students who urged or convinced Mestre Bimba to concentrate more on the martial and acrobatic aspects of capoeira in their learning, while simultaneously encouraging him away from the ritualistic and traditional aspects, out of disinterest. At the same time, these students possibly incorporated one or two things they had learned from previous martial art experience, as well.

So if you think about it, it really seems like capoeira regional was created precisely through cultural appropriation, infusion of own values, and discarding of under-valued aspects by “outsiders” to capoeira’s original community—but still with the help and cooperation of part of the community itself. Yet, it was because of precisely such changes that capoeira had its big explosion, paving the way for regional and thus opening up opportunities for angola’s revival later…paving the way for capoeira, period.

So, where does this leave us? With the conclusion that capoeira regional “is not capoeira”? Or is that an example of change happening from within a community…yet with outsiders’ “help”, or “hybridization” (and if so, does that legitimize those concepts to at least a certain extent)? Or is it just a fact of life to accept—that things change, in and of themselves (especially considering, moreover, that we haven’t lost the “original” [if one takes angola as that] despite such change)?

Q: What do capoeira and the Energizer Bunny have in common?

1 01 2008

For capoeira, the sun never sets...A: They both keep going, and going, and going…

Feliz Ano Novo, todo o mundo!

As we leave the past year behind and ring in the new, change is usually what’s on people’s minds.  How did you change last year?  What do you want to change next year?

In capoeira, change happens all the time.  It’s exactly like (sci-fi writer) Isaac Asimov said: “The only constant is change.”  This might sound paradoxical, but sometimes it seems like change is so constant in capoeira, that it doesn’t actually happen at all.  Academies change, moves are retired and reworked, people come and go, you get seriously injured and recover, and still—capoeira goes on, and remains capoeira.

There were several points last year at which I kept freaking out to my capoeira (and some non-capoeira) friends at how small my training group’s class was getting, to the point where they started making fun of me for it… (“Hey!  So, has the sky fallen at KCC yet?”)  At the same time, one of our two teachers left for a while, which was another major change.  The thing is though, we all just settled into a new rhythm, what at first felt weird and unsettling became normal, and all the while we still kept training capoeira as usual.

I think the crux here is really something my teacher (the one who’d left) said to me after I came back from a 3-week trip two summers ago (i.e. three weeks of missing class): “You might stop.  Capoeira doesn’t stop.”  Capoeira might change, but it never stops.  That’s why change is always so unsettling when it first happens, because we often see it as the ending, or stopping, of something.  This is never the case for capoeira though; no matter what happens, capoeira is capoeira.  It never stops.  And often, because of this longevity, what was changed may even become unchanged again–people return, attendance perks up, you regain lost skills–and all the while the berimbau has continued to play, so to speak.  The rhythm may be momentarily jarred, varied, or subdued, but never is it broken.

Picture source: http://psg.com/~walter/capoeir2.jpg